Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids?

Are-artificial-food-dyes-safe-for-kids

Each year, UBC dietetics students have a class project where they practice writing nutrition articles for the public. This year, I asked students Mei Ho and May Hasegawa to research are food dyes safe for kids. Here's what they found ~ Kristen

When you are shopping for snacks for your child, do the bright colours make you think twice about about adding it to your basket? Many foods we come across in our everyday lives have colour added in order to make it appear more appetizing. It is very common to see vivid colours in foods and beverages marketed towards children, such as candies, desserts and chewing gums. Foods can be coloured by natural food dyes like caramel colouring, or artificial food dyes, which are colours made from petroleum1. Today we will be looking at food dyes in the context of artificial food dyes, which have been used more commonly in foods in recent years.

Are Artificial Food Dyes Safe for Kids?

As early as the 80’s, researchers began to study the effects of artificial food dyes on children’s health. The results of their studies have been controversial, and has stirred concern amongst consumers. Some have suggested a possible link between artificial food dyes and hypersensitivity in children3. Others have researched possible risks of organ damage, cancer, birth defects and allergic reactions1. While no study findings have been conclusive, countries in Europe such as the U.K. have banned artificial food dyes altogether for safety measures1.

What Are the Safety Regulations of Food Dyes in Canada?

Regulations in North America state that there is not enough scientific evidence to say artificial food dyes cause negative effects on children’s health3. Canada permits the use of food dyes in everyday foods from bread, butter, milk to cheese. All food dyes must first be approved by our federal regulatory body, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). At this time, Canada has approved ten dye colours for use in food and beverages.

However, it has not been ruled out that food dyes may affect children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and behavioural problems differently3. Researchers agree that more research on artificial food dyes is required.

Food Dyes Across the Globe

In 2009, the U.K. imposed strict regulations to remove certain food dyes from foods and beverages. This prompts us to think, why hasn’t North America followed along? It is interesting to note the different approaches used by North America and the U.K. when it comes to ensuring public safety through foods.4

  • North America: tries to find the strongest evidence available before implementing new regulations.
  • UK: uses a more precautionary approach, meaning that it will take action to protect the public even if the evidence is not entirely conclusive.

Moving Forward: What Can You Do?

With all this information, it can be confusing to decide whether you want your children to be consuming artificial food dyes. It may first be helpful to understand how to identify whether something contains artificial food dyes. By law, companies are required to list the name of the dye on the ingredient label. It may be tricky for shoppers to recognize the commercial names of artificial food dyes. Here are the names of 10 common artificial food dyes in Canada:5

  • Allura red
  • Brilliant blue FCF
  • Citrus Red No.2
  • Sunset yellow FCF
  • Tartrazine
  • Fast green FCF
  • Indigotine
  • Erythrosine Red
  • Amaranth Red
  • Ponceau SX

There are also ways to add colour into your cooking at home without using food dyes! Kids are drawn to bright colours, and baking at home can be more fun if your child has the chance to make their own colours. This can be done by boiling, blending, and/or pureeing vegetables or fruits for their natural colours.6

Ideas include:

  • Raspberries, pomegranate and beets - pink/purple
  • Carrots – orange
  • Turmeric powder – yellow
  • Blueberry – blue
  • Spinach – green
  • Red cabbage – purple and blue
    • For purple, boil cabbage in hot water until water is dark purple colour
    • For blue, slowly add some baking soda to purple water

Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids - May’s Opinion:

While there is not enough evidence to conclude that artificial food dyes are harmful to our body, I feel that more research is needed to fully understand their effects on our health. I like to refrain from using artificial food colouring in my own baking, and opt for more natural options like using juice from fruits or vegetables.

Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids - Mei’s Opinion:

As the research is inconclusive, it is ultimately up to the consumers to make an informed decision. New food labelling requirements in Canada will now include the commercial names of synthetic food dyes in the ingredient list, but it is questionable whether or not consumers will recognize these names or be able to associate them with food dyes.

Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids - Kristen's Opinion:

Call me conservative, but I am suspicious of foods that are highly processed. My motto is "foods closest to the way nature made them are the healthiest choice". Artificial food dyes are about as far from nature-made as you can get. So, I would recommend steering clear of artificial food dyes for day-to-day eating. But I'm also practical. Our bodies are amazingly adaptive. Eating foods with artificial dyes once in a while is likely not going to cause harm. So if your child is invited to a birthday party where they serve cake with bright green icing, let your child enjoy the cake right along with the other kiddos.

If your child has behaviour concerns, such as ADD/ ADHD, I think it's worth doing a food trial where you eliminate all food dyes and see how your child's behaviour responds. There may be no effect. Or, your child may be a member of the sub-set of kids who have a link between behaviour and food dyes.

Want more science-based nutrition tips for kids? Sign-up today for my e-newsletter.

Sources:

1Kobylewski, Sarah, et al. “Food Dyes a Rainbow of Risks”. Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2010.

2Stevenson J, Sonuga-Barke E, McCann D, et al. “The Role of Histamine Degradation Gene Polymorphisms in Moderating the Effects of Food Additives on Children's ADHD Symptoms.” American Journal of Psychiatry. 2010; 167:1108-1115.

3 “FDA panel concludes food coloring isn't associated with hyperactivity in children.” Nutrition Today. 2011; 46:104.

4Banned in Europe, Safe in the U.S. http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/banned-europe-safe-us/

5Food Colours - Permitted Synthetic Colours in Canada and Corresponding United States and European Names.

http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/labelling/food-labelling-for-industry/list-of-ingredients-and-allergens/food-colours/eng/1348150903240/1348150959157

68 Ways to Make Organic DIY Food Colouring. http://www.networx.com/article/8-ways-to-make-organic-diy-food-coloring

Healthier Chocolate Nut Spread

chocolate hazelnut spread

You asked for a healthier alternative to the famous (and delicious) chocolate hazelnut spread (you know which one). Today I'm sharing not just one, but 4 alternatives. All are much lower in sugar and have no palm oil. Just in time for back-to-school. I mention back-to-school because you'll not only be looking for packed lunch ideas, but also breakfast ideas for rushed mornings and quick after school snack ideas.

All of these contain nuts or seeds. That's the foundation of this foodstuff afterall. Some preschools and schools are nut and seed-free, some are nut-free (i.e. seeds are okay), and some are peanut-free (i.e. nuts and seeds are okay). Always check with your individual facility to find out exactly what is and what isn't allowed.

An important note, especially if you are introducing these to picky eaters who already are familiar with the famous chocolate hazelnut spread, none of these taste exactly the same. So, don't try to pull a fast one on your little one and swap one for the other. They'll notice the difference - kids have keen observation skills with their food. Call this spread by a different name. This way they will be expecting something different.

A huge THANK YOU to student volunteer Carla for her help with these recipes!

Enjoy!

nutfree chocolate spread

Healthy Nut-Free Chocolate Spread

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups toasted sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 4 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk (optional)
  • ¼ to ½ cup canola oil

Directions:

  1. In a pan over medium-high heat, toast the sunflower seeds until light brown and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Using a food processor, process the sunflower seeds until powdery. Scrape the sides.
  3. Add the cocoa powder, icing sugar, milk (optional), and canola oil. Blend until smooth.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups hazelnuts
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar
  • ½ cup milk (optional)
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ to ½ cup canola oil

Directions:

  1. In a pan over medium-high heat, toast the whole hazelnuts with their peels on for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Once the whole hazelnuts are cool, rub them in between a kitchen towel to loosen and remove the skin.
chocolate spreads_medmed

Habibi's Chocolate Tahini and Powerplant's Chocolate Sprouted Seed Spread

(Note: In the spirit of being fully transparent, both of these were given to me for free. I did not receive payment to review either. I'm super picky about what foods I'll share with you in my reviews.)

I brought both of these to my co-working space last week so that everyone could try them. Yes, there are perks to having dietitians as friends and co-workers! Both received very positive reviews. Some people preferred one and an equal number preferred the other. Both products have a short ingredient list with only recognizable foods. They're made with nuts or seeds, providing healthy fats (and no palm oil). Each has just a touch of sugar/sweetener. Check each product's websites for a listing of what stores you can find them in.

Powerplant's spread has an intense chocolate taste for you dark chocolate lovers. It has a chunkier texture but smooth mouthfeel. So it's perfect for spreading on a cracker but not on soft bread. It totally screams to be included in your next smoothie.

Habibi's Chocolate Tahini has a milder chocolate taste. A few people found the tahini and chocolate flavours fought eath other. Most of us thought it was delicious (me included). This spread is the more classically kid-friendly of the two.

Looking for more healthy, kid-friendly recipes? Check out my recipe page.

5th Annual Homemade Ice Pop Recipes

spinach-kiwi ice pop

It's back, my annual home-made ice pop recipe collection. Some may call these homemade popsicles or paletas. Or, frozen smoothies. Whatever you call them they're a delicious summer treat. I want to give a big shout out to Carla, the dietetic student who is volunteering with me for creating these recipes. My directions for her: the recipes need to be simple, include no added sugar, include fruit and even veggies, and only include easy-to-find ingredients. Oh, and of course, that they needed to be delicious. She sure delivered.

The directions for each recipe are the same:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Pour into molds.
  4. Freeze.

Enjoy her work!

Kristen

P.S. For more delicious, healthy frozen recipes, check out these links:

Spinach Kiwi

Inspired by: http://www.kiipfit.com/spinach-kiwi-popsicles/

Packed with fruit and leafy greens, the vibrant green color of these popsicles comes from blending both kiwi and spinach.

  • 1/3 cup spinach
  • 1  kiwi
  • 2 drops lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup water

Mango Lassi

mango lassi ice pop

Inspired by: http://revisfoodography.com/2015/04/mango-lassi/

Inspired from a classic Indian cold drink, mango lassi is a blend of yogurt, fruit and spice. Not a fan of cardamom? Simply omit the spice and you can still enjoy it as a mango-yogurt blend.

  • 1 mango
  • 160 ml greek yogurt
  • 1 small pinch cardamom (to taste)

Cantaloupe

cantaloupe ice pop

This very simple and refreshing recipe allows you to use ripe or extra ripe cantaloupes. No added sugar necessary.

  • ¾ cup cantaloupe
  • ¼ cup water

Get more healthy home-made ice pop recipes here:

5th Annual Healthy Home-Made Popsicles (ice pops, paletas)

4th Annual Healthy Home-Made Popsicles (ice pops, paletas)

My Least Popular (But Very Effective) Picky Eater Tip

picky-eater-tip

I’ve been doing workshops for parents on picky eating for 8 years now. At every single picky eater seminar there is one strategy that always causes resistance with the parents in the audience. I continue to share it because it’s a very powerful strategy for minimizing picky eating. Yet I can almost hear the thud it makes when I describe it and it lands on the floor. The problem for which it’s a solution? How to get kids (particularly toddlers and preschoolers) to stay at the table for meals. It’s the solution for meals that go on and on forever because your child sits down, takes one bite, then pops up from the table to do something terribly important, then returns to the table, takes another bite, pops up from the table (and so on and so on).

So, what’s this successful, but unpopular strategy? Create a rule that all meals and snacks are eaten when sitting down. In other words: Stop. Eat. Then Continue On. Yes, I do mean snacks too. You may wonder why I continue to share this strategy knowing that it’ll be so unpopular. I share it because it really is successful for supporting kids to do a good job of eating. If we allow the common practice of letting kids eat snacks “on the run”, i.e. while in the car, in the stroller, you chasing them around the house spooning bite after bite into their mouths, we’re teaching kids that there is an alternative to sitting still at a table to eat. As seen through a toddler’s or preschooler’s eyes:

Why is it that sometimes can I eat while playing. But other times I’m told that I have to stop playing and sit at a table to eat (which is bo-ring).”

Create the expectation that all meals and snacks are eaten sitting down. In families who set this expectation, kids come to the table when called. They eat. Then, they continue on with their day (i.e. go back to playing). Meals and snack go much more smoothly and are less stressful because the kids aren’t constantly getting up from the table.

I understand the initial resistance that you may have to this strategy. In our super busy lives, how are we supposed to carve out time to stop and eat snacks? And it seems like I’m saying that you can never leave the house again, because you always need to be home to give snacks. Not true. Let me clarify.

Does this mean that you never get to leave the house again? No. In the summer this is especially easy. Stop at the park bench, picnic table, or spread out a blanket and enjoy a snack. Use similar ingenuity at indoor locations. For example, you can stop at the bench in the recreation centre foyer or use a table at the food court at the mall.

The important point is to stop. Don’t feed your child in the stroller, car seat, etc. And, don’t hand out a snack while your child continues playing. I know that it’s tempting to do so in our busy lives. But, it sets you up for more battles at meals and snacks. What seems like an efficient use of time in the immediate, actually costs you more time in the long run. In families who establish the stop-to-eat expectation, meals and snacks are very quick. And, they are much more pleasant. When it’s meal and snack time the kids simply get down to the business of eating.

Simply put: Stop. Eat. Then, continue on.

Get more successful picky eater tips. Sign-up for my e-newsletter today.

Nutrition Game Changer: Eating Protein at Afternoon Snack

protein at afternoon snack

Something that I recommend for almost all of the women whom I’ve worked with is eating protein at afternoon snack. Why is this a nutrition game changer? Because in my experience, it helps with a lot of the problems that women come to me for help with regarding their eating in the afternoon and evening. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • Cravings for junk food in the late afternoon.
  • Energy crashing at about 4pm.
  • Constant nibbling while you’re cooking.
  • Getting too hungry to last until you can actually make dinner so instead you pick up take out/ go through a drive-through/ eat out.

If so, then eating protein at an afternoon snack is worth trying. Here’s why:

Human beings digest a meal and get hungry again in about 4 hours. As our blood sugar drops, our body sends signals to us that we’re hungry. If we don’t respond by eating something that subsequently raises our blood sugar, our bodies send more and more urgent messages. Messages that drive us towards the high sugar, fat, salt, very tasty foods. It’s what the feeling of ‘hangry’ is all about.

Assuming that you’ve eaten lunch at about noon, it’s natural that you start to feel hungry again at about 4pm. The food choices that you make at lunch will impact how long you last before you start to get hungry. Some choices will mean that you will feel hungry again in less than 4 hours. But that’s the topic of a whole different blog post J

The longer that you wait until you eat again, the more your body will drive you towards those high sugar, fat, salt, very tasty foods. It’s a physiological drive, not a lack of will power, that causes you to eat those foods before dinner.

The secret to making healthy food choices in the afternoon and evening is to prevent ‘hangry’ by having an afternoon snack. Including protein at your afternoon snack can help your body digest your snack more slowly, thus causing more even blood sugar and fewer cravings for junk foods.

Pair your protein food with some veggies and/or fruits for a perfect combination of nutrients. Examples include:

  • A piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts.
  • Raw veggies with white bean dip.
  • Chia coconut pudding topped with fruit.
  • Collard leaf wrapped around sliced hard boiled egg and bell peppers.
  • Plain Greek yogurt topped with fresh or dried fruit.
  • Apple slices or a banana dipped in nut butter (e.g. peanut butter, almond butter).
  • Protein powder smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruit and leafy greens (e.g. spinach).

Eat protein at your afternoon snack. It’s a nutrition game changer for preventing craving junk food in the late afternoon. And, it’ll help buy you enough time to make a healthy dinner before ‘hangry’ hits.

What's your favourite afternoon snack that includes protein? Share it in a comment below!

Curious about how I can help you achieve your health and nutrition goals? Schedule a (free) call to find out.

Healthy Kids Snack - Banana Roll Ups

healthy kids snack banana roll ups

Sometimes the classics are a classic for a reason. Bananas and peanut butter simply taste great together. Here's a fun way to bring this classic duo together in a healthy kids snack. I'm choosing to share it today because it's easy for young hands to manage. Perfect if you're gearing up to pack snacks or a lunch for little ones with back-to-school next week. This works well with peanut butter, other nut butters (e.g. almond butter) and the non-nut butters if your child attends a nut-free facility.

Hey, it's also a delicious idea for those of us who are young at heart :)

Banana Roll-Ups Ingredients 2 small tortilla wraps, whole wheat ¾ medium banana 1 tbsp natural peanut butter, nut butter or non-nut butter ½ tsp honey (optional) 1 dash cinnamon, ground

Banana Roll-Ups Directions

  1. Slice banana.
  2. Spread nut butter or non-nut butter on wraps.
  3. Top with bananas.
  4. Drizzle honey and add a dash of cinnamon.
  5. Roll (pack in lunch boxes) and enjoy.

Get more healthy, simple, kid-friendly recipes.

Peaceful Fruits: A Healthy Snack Food that also Does Good

Peaceful fruits

A new feature that I'll be doing on occasion is reviewing food items. Why? Because I know that sometimes you just want to know what the heck to put in your grocery cart. 

Any foods that I share with you will be healthy choices that are also either good for the Earth and/or socially responsible. 

I believe in being transparent so I'll always share with you if I've been paid to promote a food or given a free sample.

The first food that I'm sharing is Peaceful Fruits Fruit Leathers. Evan, Peaceful Fruit's creator (that's him in the photo), asked me if I'd share them with you. He sent me samples of Wild Acai + Pineapple and Wild Acai + Apple. They are delicious and a nice (not too big) size. Currently they're only available for purchase online. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for their arrival in our local grocery stores.

I asked Evan to share his story with you. Here's what he wrote: 

Is it too much to ask for a snack to be delicious, healthy, and environmentally responsible? It shouldn’t be! I’d like to share with you the 4 things that I look for in a snack. These are what I was thinking about when, about a year ago, I launched my social good snack food startup – Peaceful Fruits. Our mission is to support sustainable development in the Amazon Rainforest while creating delicious snack foods people can enjoy with peace of mind!

1) Simple

No additives (preservatives, extra sweeteners, coloring, whatever). Really, the fewer ingredients the better. And not just the listed ingredients but what is INSIDE those ingredients. So I want to know it’s 100% organic, GMO free, etc.

That’s why, when I started making dried fruit strips, I decided there would be nothing besides fruit in them! Call me crazy, but it just makes sense!

2) Super

Personally, if I pick up a packaged food I want it to have something extra to offer me. As I said I like to keep things simple, so why should I reach for something besides an apple and/or a handful of nuts?

My answer was to make wild-harvested açaí the main ingredient in everything I produce. I love being able to add this exotic fruit to my diet!

3) Sustainable

As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I think about this a lot – how do the products I enjoy impact the environment and the people who are part of making them?

Sustainability is built into every aspect of Peaceful Fruits. That means big stuff like our açaí is sourced in partnership with local Amazon communities, offering them an opportunity to generate needed income without sacrificing their way of life or their rainforest. And also little stuff – our “plastic” packaging is actually compostable!

 4) Delicious

We all know that, too often, taste can be sacrificed to “healthy” or “local.” But we also know it doesn’t have to be! Food should taste good. Period.

I look for fun flavour combinations (like açaí + pineapple) that create something that you can really enjoy – while still being confident you are doing something good for your body and the world at the same time!

The bottom line:

You shouldn’t have to sacrifice convenience or flavor to eat something good. If you agree with me about that, I hope you’ll think twice about this important, between-meals part of your day! And please check out Peaceful Fruits on Facebook and Twitter  so you can be part of our story!

Of course, tasting is a great way to be part of the story too! If you’d like to buy our snacks, the best way for now is online - for example on FarmtoPeople.com

Thanks to Kristen for letting me tell a part of my story!

Banana Ice Cream (Dairy and Sugar Free)

banana ice cream

I wish that I had discovered this recipe earlier in my life. It’s creamy, smooth and delicious – just like ice cream! Banana ice cream.

While it’s vegan and sugar-free, the best thing about this recipe (besides the taste) is that it only includes 1 or 2 ingredients. How great is that!

The secret is very ripe bananas. Buy them when you see them in the store. Slice and freeze them. Then you’re ready to make ice cream anytime you wish.

Blending the bananas does take a little while. At first they will break into a chunky slurry and you will likely think that this “ice cream” idea doesn’t work. Be patient. Next it will form one big ball. Then, suddenly, it will become a beautiful, smooth, whipped texture – just like ice cream. If you haven’t added any strongly coloured flavourings, the colour of your bananas will also suddenly lighten considerably to a creamy off-white. That’s what you’re looking for – your “ice cream” is ready!

There are likely hundreds of flavor combinations. I’m sharing the plain version (so you know the base recipe) along with 3 flavour ideas. My favourite is the cinnamon.

Banana Ice Cream Directions

  1. Peel and slice bananas. Freeze.
  2. Place frozen sliced bananas in a blender. Add flavouring ingredients. Blend until smooth.

Banana Ice Cream Ingredients

Plain

1 cup              sliced bananas

Cinnamon

1 cup              sliced bananas

¼ tsp              cinnamon

Chocolate

1 cup              sliced bananas

½ - 1 tsp        cocoa

Half a teaspoon of cocoa results in a banana ice cream with just a hint of chocolate. One teaspoon gives a full chocolate flavour. Choose a level that you enjoy.

Strawberry

2/3 cup          sliced bananas

1/3 cup          strawberries

This combination works best if you partially blend the bananas first until they are just about to start creaming. Then add the strawberries. The result will be a creamy ice cream with strawberry flavour. Adding the strawberries at the same time as the bananas results in a more icy rather than creamy texture (more sorbet-like rather than ice cream-like).

Check out more healthy recipes.

Nuts: Why You Want More Than Just Almonds

Nuts: Why You Want More Than Just Almonds

Have you taken the healthy step of including nuts in your daily eating habits? Perhaps you’re eating nuts because of their healthy fats. Or, because you’re eating a more clean, plant-based diet. Or, because they make a great protein-rich snack that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Whatever your reason, nuts certainly are a healthy food to include regularly. When I work with clients, I look to have them eat nuts and seeds frequently. The good news is that word about how healthy nuts are seems to be getting out to people. Most clients I see are eating nuts several times a week. However for a large number of clients, eating nuts equals almonds. Only almonds. It may be whole almonds, almond butter and/or almond milk, but the only nut or seed that they’re eating is almonds. This is a problem.

If almonds are the only nuts that you eat, now’s the time to expand your repertoire to include different nuts and seeds. Here’s why:

Variety is Better Than Any 1 Food: We humans are omnivores. Your body is designed to eat a wide variety of foods. Yet, so many people eat the same few foods over and over again. Nuts and seeds are all different. Some have more healthy fats, some have more protein, and they vary in the amount of minerals and other nutrients. By sticking to only one or two nuts/seeds you are missing out on many of the benefits of different nuts/ seeds. And, when you eat a lot of only a few foods, you can get too much of some nutrients.

California Drought: Most of our almonds come from California. Did you know that California has been experiencing a drought for years? And, that their ground water is decreasing fast. Did you also know that almonds trees take a large amount of water? It’s not a good combination.

Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater (I hate that saying, do you know of a less violent one that expresses the same meaning?), please note that I’m not saying to never eat almonds again. What I’m saying is that considering that eating a variety of foods is a healthier choice, now’s a good time to take the pressure off of California water sources by expanding your nut and seed repertoire. Enjoy almonds amongst a wide variety of nuts and seeds.

There’s a whole world of nuts and seeds out there. Explore it. I do - half a shelf of my fridge is taken up with nuts and seeds. And yes, you want to store them in the fridge to keep them from going rancid.

Here’s some ideas of nut and seeds to check out. Alternatively a trip to your local bulk food section can inspire you.

  • Macadamias
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Walnuts
  • Hazelnuts (Get these while you can. There’s a blight wiping out all the trees in North America).
  • Pine nuts
  • Pecans
  • Chestnuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • Pistachios
  • Sesame seeds/ tahini
  • Flax seeds
  • Hemp seeds/ hearts
  • Chia seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds/ pepitas

Curious about how I can help you achieve your health and nutrition goals? Schedule a (free) call to find out.

How to Help Kids Stop Dawdling at Meals

How to Help Kids Stop Dawdling at Meals

Most parents ask me for help with getting their kids to actually stay sitting at the table (if that’s you, check out this blog post). But every once and a while parents ask me for help with the opposite problem. Their child takes forever to eat. Every meal is a long, drawn out affair with long minutes going by between each bite. Every time you go to take their plate away they take another bite or two. You feel torn amongst letting them get enough to eat and actually moving along with the day. If this sounds like you, here’s a strategy to help your child eat enough during a reasonable mealtime.  

Step #1: Check Your Expectations. For us adults, the mechanisms of eating are easy. We move the muscles in our mouths and throats to eat without even thinking of it. And, we have the dexterity to use utensils with ease.

Toddlers still are learning the mouth control for eating. So it can take longer to chew and swallow safely. That’s exactly why we have the recommendations of not giving choking hazards to kids under 3 years old.

Preschoolers and school-age kids have mastered chewing and swallowing. But they are still mastering utensils. Expect them to take longer to eat when a meal involves utensils.

Step #2: Use a Visual Clock. Have you taken into account the extra time for mouth coordination and utensil use and determined that you have an honest to goodness dawdler? Here’s a technique that I’ve used with lots of kids to help them learn to manage their mealtime. It’s quite simple really. Kids this age do well with visual cues. This technique stops you from nagging that it’s time to finish up (and prevents kids from learning to tune you out). You simply set a timer, let kids see it counting down, and kids learn to manage completing their task (in this case, eating) within the allotted time. Older kids can follow a simple timer countdown on a cell phone or tablet set up on the table. Younger kids need a visual that doesn’t involve numbers. There are a number of apps and devices available to create a visual representation of a clock. An example of a product is: http://www.timetimer.com/store

To look for apps simply search for “visual timer” in your device’s app store (iTunes, Google Play).

To use the visual clock, introduce the new rule to your child then follow-through. Expect them to get it wrong a few times as they experience the learning curve. During this transition, don’t let them continue eating after the timer is done. Because they will likely be a bit hungry, do plan an extra big snack and, if you can, move snack time up a bit.

Kids are smart. They learn how to regulate their meal time within a few days.

Sign up for my e-newsletter for more tips on feeding kids.

How to Get Kids to Sit at the Table

How to get kids to sit at that table

How to get kids to sit at the table. A common question that I get is how to get kids (particularly toddlers and preschoolers) to come to (and stay at) the table for meals. The best way is to set a rule that all meals and snacks are eaten at a table. As seen through a toddler’s or preschooler’s eyes: “Why is it that sometimes can I eat while playing. But other times I’m told that I have to stop playing and sit at a table to eat (which is bo-ring).”

Create the expectation that all meals and snacks are eaten at the table. In families who set this expectation, kids come to the table when called. They eat. And then they continue on with their day (i.e. go back to playing). Meals and snack go much more smoothly and are less stressful because the kids aren’t constantly getting up from the table.

Does this mean that you never get to leave the house again? No. In the summer this is especially easy. Stop at the park bench, picnic table, or spread out a blanket and enjoy a snack.

Use similar ingenuity at indoor locations. For example, you can stop at the bench in the recreation centre foyer or use a table at the food court at the mall.

The important point is to stop. Don’t feed your child in the stroller, car seat, etc. And, don’t hand out a snack while your child continues playing.

I know that it’s tempting to do so in our busy lives. But, it sets you up for more battles at meals and snacks. What seems like an efficient use of time in the immediate, actually costs you more time in the long run.

In families who establish the stop-to-eat expectation, meals and snacks are very quick. And, they are much more pleasant. When it’s meal and snack time the kids simply get down to the business of eating.

Simply put: stop, eat, then continue on.

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One Simple Step for Better Nutrition, Digestion, and Enjoyment of Your Food

better-nutrition-digestion

Do you want to get more vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the food that you eat? Want to reduce bloating and poor digestion? Want to experience more enjoyment from your food? How about feeling more full from eating less food? What if there was one really easy way for better nutrition and digestion?

Well then I’ve got good news for you.

There is one easy way:

Chew your food.

Yes, chew your food.

Okay, I’m being a bit sensationalistic. But I have good reason to be. It seems too obvious. And, too good to be true. But it really isn’t. And yet so many of us don’t do a good job of this.

We wolf down our food without really bothering to chew it.

We mindlessly eat while working at our computers, or scrolling through our iPhones, or while zoning out and watching TV.

Chewing is the first step of digestion. In chewing you break down food into smaller pieces so that your digestive enzymes can have lots of surface area to work on to digest the food, and then absorb it. There’s also digestive enzymes in your saliva that starts breaking food down.

With less chewing there’s less surface area for your enzymes to work on. Which leads to less vitamins, minerals and other nutrients being freed to be absorbed by your body.

With less chewing there’s more undigested food moving through your intestines. The result is that your gut bacteria has more food to ferment, creating gas.

Because we don’t take the time to chew your food, we eat more food before our bodies can register the sensation of being satisfied. As a result we over-eat.

Because we don’t take the time to chew our food we eat an entire bag of potato chips, or an entire tub of ice cream without even noticing. Our “treat” provided us with almost no pleasure.

I encourage you to actually take the time to chew your food. It’s so simple and the benefits are huge.

Preventing Commuter Cravings #NutritionMonth

A couple of weeks ago I shared my 4 Ways to Stop Cravings. The article spurred a ton of response. So I wanted to dig a little deeper into the topic. Also, this month is Nutrition Month. The theme is Eating 9-5. In the background information that was share with me I learned that statistics show that at the end of a busy work day, people’s food choices tend to be more impulsive, falling for unhealthy choices at vending machines and coffee shops during the commute home.

That's certainly been my experience. What about you?

What’s the best way to prevent falling for these traps? As the Boy Scouts apparently say: “Always be prepared!”

By "being prepared", I mean:

Step #1: Don’t Go Too Long Between Meals and Snacks

As I shared in my post a couple of weeks ago, when our blood sugar drops, we’re driven by our bodies towards high fat, high sugar, and high salt foods. Did you skip lunch and now you find yourself in the fast food restaurant on the way home from work? It’s because of a biological drive – not a lack of willpower. Don’t try to work against Mother Nature; you won’t succeed. Instead, eat when you’re just starting to get hungry. For most people this is approximately every 4 hours. Now this doesn’t mean all-day grazing. Plan and eat a healthy afternoon snack to prevent the lure of the vending machine.

Step #2: Pack Healthy Choices

To expand on Step #1, eat a healthy afternoon snack when you’re just starting to get hungry. This means that you need to pack a healthy snack ahead of time. I pack something daily. And, I keep some healthy options on hand. That way on days that either I forgot to pack a snack (hey, no-one’s perfect) or days when I’m not in the mood for what I packed, I have a back-up healthy snack at the office. These can also be kept in the car for all you road-warriors. I was married to one for years so I know you too!

Some healthy snack ideas include:

  • Nuts and seeds (as long as your workplace isn’t nut-free).
  • Dried fruit.
  • Fresh fruit. Apples keep well.
  • Energy bars. Look for ones with recognizable food ingredients.
  • Whole grain flatbread, such as Ryvita.
  • Unsweetened fruit purees. Applesauce and other fruit mixtures come in sealed plastic cups. I also know many adults who use the squeezie packs of organic baby fruit & veggie purees (you can even find ones with awesome whole grains like quinoa).
  • Individual tetra packs of milk or plant-based milk alternatives.

Step #3: Fill Your Water Bottle

Often it’s thirst, not hunger, that sends us into the coffee shop or to the vending machine. Even if you only buy a water (and not a drink containing sugar, artificial sweeteners, or caffeine), just going to the vending machine/coffee shop means that you’ll be facing tempting treats. Instead, fill a reusable water bottle before you head out the door. Voila – temptation avoided!

What do you do to prevent cravings on the commute home? I'd love for you to share your tips in the comments section below!

** I’m proud to be a registered dietitian. March is #NutritionMonth – when dietitians across North America share our love of healthy eating! This article is inspired by the Dietitians of Canada's Nutrition Month Campaign Materials. Find more information about Nutrition Month at www.nutritionmonth2015.ca. **

Healthy Shamrock Smoothies - Green Smoothies

green smoothies

I'm a true kid of the 1980's Canadian suburbs. Growing up, we went to McDonalds a couple of times a year. One of those times each year, guarenteed, was in March. Why? If you grew up similar to me, you already know the answer...Shamrock Shakes. I totally LOVED those green, mint milkshakes that McDonalds only had on the menu around St. Patrick's Day.

To be honest, I had totally forgotten about those shakes. Those childhood days are long gone. But last Spring, while on a surf trip in California, I had a smoothie that brought it all back. It was pistachio and mint, and it was DELICIOUS! Ever since then I can't get mint or pistachios off my mind. So, of cource I had to create recipes for a healthy, minty green smoothie in time for St. Patrick's Day.

I didn't remember exactly what was in that smoothie in California. So I bought all sorts of green ingredients. And, I created a second green smoothie. Why not?!

The directions are easy. Simply combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Adjust the amounts to suite your tastebuds. Too thick? Add more liquids. Too thin? Add more solids.

The two recipes are:

Green Smoothie Pistachio-Mint

  • 1 tablespoon flax seeds
  • 3 tablespoons pistachios
  • 3/4 cup milk (or plant-based alternative)
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup (packed) baby spinach
  • 3 chopped dates
  • 2 tablespoons (packed) fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Green Smoothie Avocado-Pistachio-Kale

  • 1 tablespoon flax seeds
  • 1/4 ripe avocado
  • 1/2 banana
  • 2 large kale leaves, centre ribs removed
  • 3 tablespoons pistachios
  • 1 cup milk (or plant-based alternative)

4 Ways to Stop Cravings

4 Ways to Stop Cravings

I received a request to address cravings. Now the community member didn’t specify what she was craving. But I’m assuming that it was high fat, sugar, salt foods. Because it’s highly unlikely that her craving for kale concerned her enough to reach out :) The scientific literature doesn’t have a very thorough understanding of cravings – why we get them or what they mean. So, I’m going to share with you 4 ways to stop cravings: two ways to stop cravings from the literature and two ways that I’ve discovered in my life.  

4 Ways to Stop Cravings: Sleep Deprived

This is a surprising cause of cravings. But there is evidence that the more sleep deprived we are, the more we seek out high fat, sugar, and salt foods. So if you want to get rid of cravings, create a plan to get more sleep. What can you take off your “to-do” list? Turn off that screen and hit the hay.

4 Ways to Stop Cravings: Going Too Long Between Meals and Snacks

When our blood sugar drops, we’re driven by our bodies towards high fat, sugar, and salt foods. Did you skip lunch and now you find yourself in the fast food restaurant on the way home from work? It’s because of a biological drive – not a lack of willpower. Don’t try to work against Mother Nature; you won’t succeed. Instead, eat when you’re just starting to get hungry. For most people this is approximately every 4 hours. Now this doesn’t mean all-day grazing. But, it may mean planning and eating a healthy afternoon snack to prevent the afternoon trip to the vending machine.

4 Ways to Stop Cravings: Increasing Protein and Decreasing Sugar at Breakfast

I was always a toast with jam for breakfast kind of woman. But I also always craved candy every afternoon. A couple of years ago I switched my breakfast to plain yogurt, usually Greek, topped with hemp hearts and fruit. This winter I’ve been on the overnight oats bandwagon, adding this to my yogurt mixture. I’ve found that my craving for sweets has gone from daily to a couple of times a month. Which is a huge change! Switch up you breakfast and see if it decreases your cravings.

4 Ways to Stop Cravings: Have Other Tools in Your Emotional Care Toolbox

Often we crave high fat, sugar, and salt foods as a way of numbing our emotions. I became such a cliché after my divorce, literally drowning my sorrows in tubs of ice cream. You don’t need to be a dietitian to know that a couple of tubs a week isn’t healthy. So I decided to create other ways to take care of my emotions. Now I have a lot of tools in my toolbox. Tools like a gratitude practice, yoga, surfing, trail running, art therapy, and the occasional tub of ice cream. Ask yourself the tough question of whether you’re really craving that food because you don’t want to deal with difficult emotions. Take the time to develop alternative tools to take care of yourself.

Have you found effective ways to stop cravings? I'd love you to share them in the comments section below!

Don’t Be Heavy-Handed with “Nutrition” Talk - Teaching Nutrition to Kids

Teaching Nutrition to Kids

I had the best time on Friday! I was invited to the Valentine’s Day party at the local elementary school. I brought a variety of fruits and veggies and led an activity where we used cookie cutters to cut out hearts and thread them onto wooden skewers to make cupid’s arrows (thank you Pinterest). Do I have the best job or what?! But was I just playing? No. There’s a method to my madness. I’ve learned something in the (gulp) 20 years that nutrition’s been my world. It’s that teaching nutrition to kids isn’t the way to inspire people to have healthy eating habits. Sure, talking about vitamins, minerals, etc will change what some people eat. There will be the exception that proves the rule. But it truly is the exception. I learned this lesson the hard way. When I was a bubbly, enthusiastic nutrition student, I shared my new-found knowledge with anyone and everyone (whether they asked for my 2 cents worth or not). Guess what? Not surprisingly, most people rolled their eyes at me and went on with their same (unhealthy eating) behavior.

I’ve learned that the most effective way to influence people’s behaviour is to simply serve them delicious, healthy food. And don’t say anything about it.

With kids there is even more opportunity! You see they haven’t had 10, 20, 30 years-of habits that we need to break. With kids, all we need to do is to include healthy foods in fun and everyday activities. To make healthy eating the norm. That’s why I worked to get myself invited to the Valentine’s Day party. Because, it was a fantastic way to infuse a celebration day with healthy food. The kids totally got into it and had a fantastic time. In fact, we hardly had enough fruit to thread on the skewers because they were eating so much of it. I can honestly tell you that they didn’t miss baking cookies one bit.

Creating a positive association with healthy eating is more powerful than knowing that I “should” eat something because it has vitamin so-and-so in it.

Recently a study confirmed my experience. They found that kids were less likely to try a food. And, they rated a food as tasting worse, if they were told that it was healthy.

It’s so tempting to go on and on about WHY kids should eat a healthy food. But do your best to resist the temptation. It’s more effective if you aren’t heavy-handed with the “nutrition” talk.

As the saying goes:

“Actions speak louder than words”.

How do you incorporate healthy eating into fun activities? I'd love you to share in the comments below!

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Chocolate Fruit and Nut Bark

chocolate bark_medmed

I'm frequently asked for healthy treat recipes. With Valentine's Day around the corner, I figured that today was the perfect time to share an idea for a healthy (and delicious) chocolate fruit and nut bark.

Like many of the food ideas that I share, this is more of a technique than a recipe. Pick and choose the dried fruit and nuts that you want to use. Add more or less chocolate. Once you get the hang of this you'll wonder why you've been eating cheap chocolate bars!

The healthiest options are raw (non-roasted, unsalted) nuts, unsweetened, unsulfured dried fruit, and dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa.

Note: Chocolate does best when allowed to cool slowly. Make this the night before you want to eat it!

Chocolate Fruit and Nut Bark Ingredients

1.5 cups nuts (e.g. hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts, almonds, pistachios)

1.5 cups dried fruit (e.g. raisins, goji berries, mango, apricots)

400g chocolate (NOT semisweet baking chocolate)

Chocolate Fruit and Nut Bark Directions

  1. Chop larger fruit and nuts into bite-size pieces.
  2. Spread evenly over a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  3. Chop the chocolate.
  4. In a medium-size pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Turn off the heat.
  5. Place the chopped chocolate in a large, heatproof (i.e. not plastic) bowl. Place the bowl over the boiling water. Using a spatula, stir the chocolate until it melts.
  6. Pour the chocolate over the fruit & nut mixture.
  7. Allow the bark to cool to room temperature. Then, refrigerate overnight.
  8. Cut into pieces and enjoy!

In this photo I'm testing out different fruit and nut combinations. It's a tough job but someone has to do it!

Matches made in heaven: hazelnuts and dried mango, cashews and goji berries, salted peanuts and raisins, almonds and golden raisins, pistachios and apricots.

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Healthy Valentine's Day treat: Chocolate, fruit and nut bark.

Peer Pressure is a Good Thing (How to Use It With Picky Eaters)

Peer Pressure and Picky Eaters

Did you grow up hearing about how peer pressure was a negative influence on our lives and how we should resist its evil pull? I sure did. Which is why I needed to do a double take when I read a study about how peer pressure can be a useful technique for getting kids to try new foods.

There’s a study that was done a number of years ago where they set up a daycare situation and had a few kids who hated carrots spend the day at this daycare. These kids had been served carrots many, many time by their parents. And these parents had done all the usual things to get their kids to eat the carrots – the 1 bite rule, no dessert if you don’t eat them, etc.

The rest of the kids in the “daycare”? They all loved carrots.

Guess what they served for snack? Carrots of course. You can also likely guess what happened next. Many of the kids who hated carrots watched their new friends eat the carrots. And then they too ate them. All without any prompting from the adults.

I had forgotten all about this study until recently when a friend was telling me about how, this week, her son had eaten salmon for the first time. She’s followed my techniques with feeding her 3 year old son. As a result he’s a pretty good eater, enjoying a decent variety of foods.

They had served him salmon many, many times. But he had never tried it. Until one day when they were over for dinner at his friend Chloe’s house. Salmon was on the menu that night – one of Chloe’s favourite foods.

You see, this little guy has a really special relationship with Chloe. He thinks that the sun rises and sets over her. Well, he took one look at Chloe eating her salmon and he tucked right into his salmon as if he’d been eating it his whole life.

His Mom nearly dropped her fork she was so surprised! But she remembered my tip of not making a big deal of it when your little one tries a new food. So she did an imaginary happy dance and then nonchalantly continued with the dinner conversation.

Six months later he still eats salmon. Peer pressure is a good thing.

Do some of your child’s friends enjoy foods that you’d like your child to eat? Arrange play dates or invite the family over for lunch or dinner. Serve the target foods. I can’t guarantee 100% success. But it’s another technique to create an environment that supports your child to choose to try new foods on their own.

Has this technique worked for you? I'd love you to share your story in the comments below!

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Creamy Quinoa Pudding

Creamy Quinoa Pudding

This is the #1 most frequently pinned recipe from my Pinterest boards. A totally delicious update on tapioca pudding from the cookbook Quinoa 365.

This dish is fantastic for little ones who don't like to eat meat or other protein-rich foods.  If you're looking for more ways to use quinoa, I highly recommend the book. I've enjoyed many of it's recipes.

Creamy Quinoa Pudding Ingredients

1/3 cup quinoa

2/3 cup water

2 cups half and half cream

2 large eggs

1/4 cup white or cane sugar (I use less)

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Creamy Quinoa Pudding Directions

  1. In a saucepan, bring water and quinoa to a boil. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
  2. Turn the heat off and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for another 6 minutes.
  3. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and allow to cool.
  4. Place the cream in a medium saucepan and heat on medium-high until hot but not boiling (steam will rise from the top). Remove from the heat.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and cornstarch with 1 TBSP of the hot cream.
  6. Add an additional 3 TBSP of hot cream, one TBSP at a time, whisking constantly.
  7. Whisk the tempered egg mixture into the saucepan and return to medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the pudding has thickened.
  8. Remove from the heat and stir in the quinoa and vanilla.
  9. Pour the pudding into individual serving bowls.
  10. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.
  11. ENJOY!

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